The Upside is a remake of the French film, The Intouchables. The well-intentioned story feels very formulaic in spite of Kevin Hart and Bryan Cranston’s performances. Now in theaters.
I walked out of my screening of The Upside feeling pretty good about the film. It had a lot of heart. It had a lot of courage. It made me feel good about myself, I suppose.
I had this same feeling coming out of Green Book, and I now can appreciate the concerns that were raised about that film because they apply to this film as well.
As I started thinking about it, I realized that it felt preachy and while I ascribe to giving people chances to improve and grow, I didn’t feel that either Dell Scott (Kevin Hart) nor Phillip Lacasse (Bryan Cranston) really grew. Sure, their characters grew out of their friendship, but if Dell hadn’t had a need, if he hadn’t been in the right place at the right time, the story wouldn’t have worked.
They needed each other and that symbiotic relationship was required to make the story work.
Neil Burger, who made one of my all-time favorite films, The Illusionist and directed Divergent really had to stretch here to make the content work. One of the biggest stumbling blocks is the way the film opens because it creates a level of confusion that the film doesn’t fully embrace.
But, I don’t think we’re meant to mind this “smoke and mirror” routine. Dell is a criminal with a long, sordid history. He is described in an archetypical fashion with a broken relationship; out of a job and on his last straw. As good-natured as Hart is, he does not come across as someone who is struggling, yet when we look at his wife and his son, they are struggling. The crux of this struggle is in the relationship, not the surroundings.
Out on parole, his P.O. requires him to find a job or get signatures that he is actually trying to find work. We are treated two scenes where Dell is interviewing when he finally comes across the ad for a live-in caregiver for Phillip, a paraplegic. The story uses Phillip’s dreams and memories to tell his tragic backstory, one of the story’s Achilles Heel in that the dreams are fascinating from Phillip’s perspective, but they never really relate the dreams to the overall story.
Dell on the other hand is along for the ride. Yes, he’s the emotional anchor of this film, trying to get Phillip to feel something, even if it is anger, but some sort of emotion as a reminder of a life that’s worth living. Cranston was superb at conveying those emotions, yet he appeared to be constricted by the restrictions of his character. There are moments where Cranston’s smile comes out reminding us of his comedic timing, but they are so far and few between.
As I said, I felt good walking out of the screening, but I knew there was something itching at the nape of my neck about this film. I haven’t seen the French film that Jon Hartmere based his script on (I plan to this weekend). Part of my issue is that this story felt recycled.
In fact, I couldn’t help but think of Garry Marshall’s “Pretty Woman,” but significantly watered down. Some have compared it to “Driving Miss Daisy.” I don’t necessarily think that’s a fair comparison because it inevitably feels more like a bromance rather than a look at race and class relations, though there are those themes present as well.
Whether Burger and Hartmere intended it, this rags to riches – type story for Dell doesn’t come off as well as it probably could have even if we do enjoy Hart and Cranston’s performances.
The Upside is rated PG-13 by the MPAA and is out in theaters nationwide.